Author: Lena Smith
Katie Gibbs is the “iron woman” on the Occidental women’s water polo team this year in more ways than one. In a literal sense, she often plays iron woman, which means going an entire game of her physically demanding sport without a sub. Moreover, she is the only captain, and she sets a powerful example in and out of the pool.
Perhaps her greatest single accomplishment in the water for Occidental is the three goals, or “hat trick,” that she scored against Division I University of Hawaii April 12 this year. Gibbs alone scored more goals than any of the other SCIAC teams that played Hawaii, who nonetheless beat the Tigers 20-5.
“[The hat trick] showed the girls, like, don’t let your head get to you, always play,” teammate Nina Wheeler (junior) said.
Not afraid of taking hits for her team, Gibbs has caused the most ejections of any of the players this season, meaning she creates situations in which the other team fouls her. Having grown as a player since her first year at Occidental, she expanded her range from defense to playing the entire pool.
Defense is where Gibbs is strongest, specifically two meter defense. As an underclassman, Gibbs looked up to Nanea Fujiyama ’13, who challenged her guarding skills in practice. Gibbs has drawn 51 ejections this season as of the senior game against Caltech April 15. She also has 34 goals, 18 assists, 46 steals and 14 field blocks as of the same game.
Her accomplishments go beyond the impressive statistics she has earned during her senior year. Her first year, she was named Occidental Rookie of the Year. In 2013, she played in all 32 games of the season and the next year she earned a 2nd Team All-SCIAC Award.
“She’s very focused, very serious, but quick to crack a smile,” Interim head women’s water polo coach John Bonafede said.
Gibbs’ composure and positive attitude reflect her ability to have fun while working hard in the pool. She is a leader whose teammates respect her because she respects them. Wheeler has memories of seniors foisting extra tasks, like closing down the pool, on new players.
“Instead of people seeing her as this pretty scary figure, they see her as more on their level,” Wheeler said.
She has honed her leadership skills as a coach in Glendale and Orinda, CA, where she grew up. Coaching high school teams, she has learned how to explain drills and exercises, a skill she brings to practices at Occidental to help her teammates get the most out of their time in the water.
She also leads by example. According to Bonafede, Gibbs is regularly at the pool for practice before he is and is always the last to leave. She maintains her physical strength during the off-season and plays her hardest at every practice.
“All the girls are scared to guard her, because she’s so good and very talented, but if you’re paired up with her you kind of know it’s going to be really challenging and it makes everyone better,” Wheeler said.
Gibbs hopes her leadership style will encourage the younger players to take initiative and become leaders in the pool themselves.
“I’m looking for the day when a freshman tells me, ‘Hey, Katie, get off the ball. I would love that,’ ” Gibbs said.
As a boarding student at the Hill School in Pottstown, PA, Gibbs became a water polo player, in a way combining the two sports in which she already competed, basketball and swimming. She enjoyed it so much that she joined a club team when she went home to Orinda and finally chose to join the team at Occidental.
During her time at Occidental, Gibbs also studied abroad in Durban, South Africa where she looked at the health effects of community gardens on disabled persons. She is also a member of the leadership council for public health. She is a biology major and will be pursuing her interest in research after graduation at a year-long position at the University of California San Francisco’s program of reproductive and environmental health, which will involve researching toxins in umbilical cord blood.
Gibbs balances classes, labs and water polo practice by taking time everyday to recharge. One of her favorite spots is the new lawn at the front of the campus.
“I thrive off being busy,” Gibbs said. “You gotta take a nap a day.”
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